Bill Whalen

 

The big news out of Northern California today (aside from some long-overdue rain): State Sen. Leland Yee detained and arrested by the feds amidst a sweeping series of raids by FBI and gang task force agents.

Yee’s a Democrat from San Francisco, a longtime fixture in Sacramento, and a political pioneer: the first Chinese-America elected to the State Senate and, before that, the number-two Democrat in the State Assembly. At present, he’s a candidate for California’s Secretary of State – that candidacy now, obviously in deep trouble, if not finished.

Sadly, it’s the latest installment in a real-life version of House of Cards occurring under California’s State Capitol Dome.

Last week, Senate Democrats voted down a Republican resolution to expel state Sen. Roderick Wright – a Democrat convicted of eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury.

And there’s State Sen. Ronald Calderon, a Democrat indicted on federal corruption charges for allegedly accepting almost $100,000 in bribes and other assorted mischief (free food, free golf).

Both senators are on a leave of absence – though they’re still receiving their taxpayer salaries.

Here are three quick takeaways from Yee’s transition from running for higher office to riding in the back of a squad car.

Absolute Power Corrupts. The last time Republicans controlled California’s State Senate? That would be 1956 – the same year Eisenhower was re-elected, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, Elvis cut his first gold album, and a full decade before some fellow named Reagan took on Jerry Brown’s father for governor of California. Nearly 60 years later, Democrats entered 2014 with a crushing 28-11 supermajority – with it, the ability to pass any piece of legislation it so desired (run-of-the-mill statutes, tax increases, constitutional amendment) without the need for GOP input and votes. That supermajority is no more, thanks to the three senators’ legal troubles (State Senate supermajorities are based on two-thirds of 40 seats; a minimum of 27 seats is needed). It’s reminiscent of what befell congressional Democrats in 1994, when the party seemed a little too arrogant and a lot too corrupt (remember the House banking scandal?) after four decades of majority control. The need to take advantage of supermajority led Senate Democrats down a bad political path earlier this month when they opened a hornet’s nest over affirmative action and college admissions. Yee’s apparent association with a gangster named “Shrimp Boy” suggests not only a politician who lost his bearings but perhaps adds to the perception of an institution unfamiliar with the concepts of honorable conduct and voter backlash.

A New “E” for GOP? California elections tend to revolve around a set of issue all beginning with the same first letter – economy, education, and environment. In 2014, will Republicans find a way to add a fourth “e” – “ethics” – to that list? For a party-out-of-power that’s struggling to find common ground with swing voters, the Democratic scandals could be a godsend – fraud, bribery, perjury and fraternizing with mobsters hardly being wedge issues. The simplest way for California Republicans to package this: by plagiarizing verbatim from 1994’s Contract With AmericaTo restore accountability to Congress the State Legislature. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace. To make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.”A trickier matter: how legislative Republicans play the ethics reform package recently introduced by their Democratic counterparts.

Impact on the SoS Race. Before his run-in with the law, Yee was one of a handful of candidates – Republican, Democratic, independent – angling for a top-two finish in the June open primary for Secretary of State (among other responsibilities, the SoS is California’s chief election officer). Assuming that effort’s now cratered, who benefits from Yee’s fall? Obviously, some disenchanted Democrats will migrate to the frontrunner, State Sen. Alex Padilla. But keep an eye on Dan Schnur, a USC academic and nonpartisan. On the day before Lee’s legal troubles, the Schnur campaign issued this press release touting the candidate’s “anti-corruption agenda”. Before that, he called on Lee to vote to expel Roderick Wright from the State Senate. Historically, third-parties candidates in California are at a disadvantage: no grassroots infrastructure; the struggle to build a donor network. But the latest scandal adds gives Schnur’s candidacy a rationalization and potentially a tailwind – in a year when strange winds are blowing through California’s State Capitol.

 

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen

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Carson Bruno

CA6

The first installment of the “Sacramento Spotlight” series examining Tim Draper’s proposed “Six Californias” ballot initiative found that no single new state could decisively be named a winner based on demographics.

 

Next up: the economics of the new states.

At face value, each new state would be economically different. Northernmost Jefferson would be mostly an agricultural/resource state with forestry likely to become the dominant private industry.  North California, south of Jefferson and spanning from Nevada to the Pacific Ocean, would benefit from a little bit of everything: tech industry, agriculture, tourism, and healthcare.  Silicon Valley, of course, would be dominated by tech; Central California, situated between Silicon Valley and Nevada, would mostly be agriculture and resource extraction; West California’s Los Angeles hub would mean entertainment would be a massive force and South California’s Orange and San Diego counties would dominate the economy.

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Tim Kane

A Subtle Danger

 

The new Federal Reserve chair just had a stellar inaugural news conference, and kudos to her.  I said months ago that she was the “safer” choice, and I think President Obama deserves credit for appointing her.  With that said, there is a subtle danger in the language she is using to describe how the central bank now sees the economy and understands the limits of its power.

POLITICO describes the shift:

The Fed has previously said that the magic number for when it might begin to consider raising short-term interest rates is when unemployment hits 6.5 percent. But with that number within reach — it currently stands at 6.7 percent — Yellen and the Fed simply dropped using the target as an indicator, instead referring to more vague “labor market conditions.”

This is an error. What seems rather tiny is in fact an exponentially risky shift away from neutrality.

In terms of monetary policy, the national rate unemployment is the indicator that matters, not the alternative metrics like EPOP and LFPR that are, in my own words, more accurate assessments of how the people in the economy are experiencing the labor market.  Why the contradiction?

Because there are limits to what gunning an engine can do.

Monetary policy is one, giant lever in managing the macro economy. A good metaphor is the gas pedal on an automobile. You push harder, the car goes faster. But no matter how hard you push the gas pedal, the engine’s design will not change. In this metaphor, engine performance is the equivalent of fiscal policy. Business regulations that are rooted in the 1950s worldview will perform, metaphorically, like a car engine from the 1950s. And when fiscal policy degrades the engine’s quality – reduces the number of cylinders, cuts a few wires, uses cheaper gasoline, neglects maintenance on depreciating components – all things which slow the car down, there’s nothing monetary policy can do to fix those things. And here’s the point: it should not try to compensate.

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Bill Whalen

 

It’s fitting that Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul and generous donor to Republican causes (reportedly as much as $150 million in 2012), is hosting a dinner next week in Las Vegas for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, after all, may or may not seek the presidency in 2016 – he says he’ll decide later this year. And the GOP field in which he’d take part? It’s a crapshoot, with no clear odds-on-favorite. Well, that and the fact that the betting lines keep moving – at a pace only a casino owner (and people fishing for something to write two years in advance) could love.

At the moment, it’s Bush’s odds on the uptick. Larry Sabato, the esteemed University of Virginia political scientist and crystal ball gazer, has the son-of-41/brother-of-43 at the front of the pack. Others see him as a Republican variation of Hillary Clinton – famous surname, potentially formidable, though unlike Hillary unable to clear the primary field.

Maybe most notable of all for Jeb Bush’s long-term prospects: he’s doing better in the all-important Barbara Bush primary – his mother softening her opposition to the thought of a third Bush male seeking America’s top political prize.

Here are four reasons to explain/justify the Bush buzz.

1)  Republican Speed Dating. To the adage “Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall in love” when choosing a presidential nominee, 2016 offers little in the way of order for the GOP. There is no frontrunner – no one candidate with a financial or structural advantage to muscle his or her way to victory (this worked for Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain (to a lesser extent) in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012). Instead, the field is an exercise in speed dating – a presidential hopeful having their moment at the front of the line, then it’s on to the next prospective mate. Such was the case for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, following his re-election last November, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul earlier this year. Now, it’s Bush’s turn to be the media’s speed-date – until they find a new darling.

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Carson Bruno

 

Last month, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen approved for circulation (i.e. gathering roughly 800,000 signatures) venture capitalist Tim Draper’s proposed ballot initiative to split the Golden State into six new states. The proposed proposition has immediately garnered not only state and local attention, but also that of the national media.

But who would be the winners of such an amicable divorce?CA6

Like many things California-centric, it’s not an easy question to answer, other than the obvious beneficiaries: flag-makers and Republicans looking to break up the Democrats’ 55 electoral-vote monopoly in the Golden State. However, by breaking down the new states based on their demographics, their economies, and their politics, we can examine winners on a granular basis.

Using county-level data pulled from Secretary of State’s office, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Larry Sabato’s Center for Politics, Political Data, Inc., the California Department of Finance, and the California Employment Development Department, the following three “Sacramento Spotlights” will explore what the six news states – Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California, and South California – would look like.

First up: demographics.

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Bill Whalen

 

On Feb. 27, 1968, soon after his visit to Vietnam to report on the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, Walter Cronkite took to the nation’s airwaves to share his personal views on the conflict. “To say that we are mired in stalemate,” America’s foremost anchorman said, “seems the only realistic if unsatisfactory conclusion.”

And with that, the Johnson Administration lost Cronkite – and not long after that, the court of public opinion.

Just as, with this column, the Obama Administration may have lost Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist.

Not that Ms. Dowd’s sometimes-acid pen is any match for Mr. Cronkite’s microphone, but she has picked up on a bad vibe: Democrats are in a state of panic as the midterm election approaches, and the Democratic president has done little to instill confidence in the party’s faithful. “With the health care sign-up period coming to an end this month,” Dowd writes, “Democrats in Congress are looking over at the White House and realizing that the president is not only incapable of saving them, but he looks like a big anchor tied around their necks.”

Ouch.

Not that his fellow partisans will go on the record trashing their party’s leader, but there is evidence of a rift wider than the two miles separating the Democratic White House and the Democratic-controlled United States Senate. As evidence: the nomination fight over Dr. Vivek Murthy, the President’s choice to serve as U.S. surgeon general. Republicans have steadfastly opposed, due in no small part to the National Rifle Association’s assertion that the good doctor is a bad anti-gun activist. The problem for Mr. Obama: as many as 10 Democrats seem ready to vote against the White House’s pick. When added to the earlier rejection of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division – seven Democrats going against the President’s wishes on that occasion – it would seem that lame duck is on the menu in the “world’s most deliberative body”.

There are at least two other factors that may be contributing to why President is fighting two cold wars – Putin abroad, Senate Democrats at home.

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Bill Whalen

A Jolly Good Night In Florida

 

As if the week weren’t strange enough politics-wise, what with President Obama going from leader of the Free World to straight man for a hipster comic in hopes of selling his health plan to Gen Y, we’ve now discovered the key to tipping the balance in battleground Florida.

Unleash Bob Barker.

It was Barker, the 80-year-old former host of The Price Is Right, the long-running game show and staple of daytime television, who cut this ad urging voters in Florida’s 13th Congressional District special election to vote for his pal, Republican David Jolly, the narrow winner in Tuesday night’s vote.

Not that Alex Sink, the Democrat in the race and slight favorite going into election day, didn’t tap into her own tv star of yesterday. Her choice: Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, of Sha-Na-Na fame, who recorded a robo-call for the candidate attacking Jolly over wanting to lay waste to the senior safety net.

The net result: elderly game show host trumped elderly greaser, with Jolly winning by enough to avoid a recount (like that could ever happen in Florida).

Some thoughts as to this election’s significance:

1)  Don’t Buy All the Hype. Jolly ran on repealing Obamacare; Sink said she’s amend it, not end it. Republicans will tout this as proof that the President and his plan are albatrosses even in a district that Mr. Obama twice carried (52% in 2008; 50% in 2012). Then again, it wasn’t a regularly scheduled election – and that usually means a lower Democratic turnout. And it’s a swing district, with the two parties evenly dividing voter registration (37% Republican, 35% Democratic, 24% independent). As for Florida’s 13th CD being a preview of coming attractions: it’s true that a House special election in California in June 2006 was a precursor of troubles for the GOP that fall. Then again, in 2010 the Democrats won a springtime special election in Pennsylvania, only to lose 63 seats that fall – the biggest shift in over 70 years.

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Bill Whalen

 

Befitting a land that accounts for one-eighth of the nation’s population – 38 million Californians vs. 316 million Americans, per the most recent U.S. Census count – the Golden State is also home to the same ratio of America’s millionaires (777,624 such households in California; 6.1 million nationwide, according to Phoenix Marketing International’s annual report).

That California total will grow by one if, as advertised, actor/activist Alec Baldwin makes good on his pronouncement to relocate from New York City to Los Angeles. Baldwin’s tipping point, as conveyed in this epic as-told-to rant: he’s tired of being misquoted and misunderstood; maligned and maltreated by the paparazzi, liberal pundits and a modern media culture of snap judgment.

The City of Angels, Baldwin believes, offers a more realistic shot at privacy. As he rationalized in his manifesto: “L.A. is a place where you live behind a gate, you get in a car, your interaction with the public is minimal.”

That may be so. Photographers won’t hound Baldwin the moment when he steps out the front door with his wife and infant – a constant flashpoint in the streets of Manhattan. He might be in for a surprise should he go dining or shopping.

But what if Baldwin succeeds in reinventing himself as a 21st Century male Garbo? At some point, won’t he start craving attention and the sound of his own voice?

If so, here’s a suggestion: run for public office in California.

It’s not like the thought hasn’t crossed Baldwin’s mind. He’s on the record as having flirted with a Senate run in Connecticut and a mayoral bid in New York City. And he has celebrity friends who like to hang out at the political intersection of vanity and self-convinced nobility. That would include actor Warren Beatty, who just a few years was making life miserable for then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (it’s worth noting that Baldwin has kind words for Jay Billington Bulworth in his otherwise blistering takedown of the entertainment industry).

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Bill Whalen

 

Under the rubric of “lost weekend”, try this: spending Saturday and Sunday leafing through reams of previously withheld documents released late last week by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library – about 4,000 pages chronicling the former First Couple’s years in the White House, with another 20,000 pages coming in the next few weeks, plus another 7,000-8,000 pages whose fate is yet to be determined.

And what did we learn?

1)  The ‘90’s Were a Long Time Ago. Like such other 1990s fixations as grunge, the Macarena and beanie babies, Bill and Hillary Clinton governed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. As evidence of that: Clinton aides talking about some new fangled contraption called the Internet – no “the”, merely “Internet” mentioned – in the same futuristic terms as Einstein writing to FDR about nuclear fission some six years before the Alamogordo blast. As Clinton conversations take us to where we once were as a nation – better economic times and never-ending personal scandals – which is the better slogan for her 2016 campaign: “Ready for Hillary”, or “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again”?

2)  If Only They (the Obama White House) Knew Now What They (the Clinton White House) Knew Then. An unsigned memo from a Clinton aide included this riff on the selling of Hillarycare in her husband’s remarks: “We have a line . . . that says “You’ll pick the health plan and the doctor of your choice”. This sounds great and I know that it’s just what people want to hear. But can we get away with it?” One wonders if, 20 years from now, something similar will emerge from the depths of the Obama Presidential Library.

3)  “You Like Me”. Fitting for a data dump just two days before the Academy Awards ceremony, Mrs. Clinton’s image elves struggled with how to turn the First Lady into the equivalent of Sally Field winning a Best Actress statue. Among the ideas for softening Hillary’s image: turning her 20th wedding anniversary into a friendly couple’s sit-down with Barbara Walters; a cameo on the popular sitcom Home Improvement; a cautionary “be careful to “be real”” when out on the campaign trail; and a recommendation to “look for opportunities for humor” also when out in the public. Yes, people actually get paid top dollar for such advice.

So did this minor glimpse into the inner workings of the Clinton presidency do anything to change Hillary’s long-term political prospects?

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